Jose Mourinho believes Ashley Cole has the quality to fight for his place in Chelsea’s first team, hinting the England international can go on to replicate his best form for the Blues.
Speaking after his side rescued a last-gasp 2-2 draw with West Brom, Mourinho believes his decision to leave Cole on the bench was calculated, per Chris Richards of the Mirror:
I can make mistakes, I can be unfair, for sure I am and for sure I do that, but I always give a lot of thought to my decisions.
I decided for [Cesar] Azpilicueta to play against Schalke and he was fantastic. On Saturday he was very good again.
Ashley is a top professional, he is a fighter. He has to work hard, to fight hard because the place [in the team] is his place.
As reported by Alan Nixon of the Mirror, Chelsea’s alleged interest in Sevilla left-back Alberto Moreno has forced many to consider a Stamford Bridge future that doesn’t include Cole.
At 32 years of age, the former Arsenal player is certainly heading into the twilight of his career.
Cole is unlikely to maintain pace with Premier League and European competition across the next few seasons, as physical limitations and a hectic schedule ensure an extremely tough challenge for a player of his age.
While Azpilicueta has performed well recently—capped with a goal in Chelsea’s 2-0 Capital One Cup win over Arsenal—the 24-year-old has some way to go before nailing down a prolonged first-team spot in Mourinho’s side.
The Portuguese manager often favours experience, as highlighted by John Terry’s continued presence in the side, and may feel Azpilicueta lacks the quality needed to mount a charge for silverware.
Although well-rounded and reliable, "Dave" doesn't possess the explosiveness and attacking output to justify consistent selection when Cole is fit.
Mourinho’s first-choice left-back has represented Chelsea nine times across all competitions this season, picking up one yellow card, per Who Scored.
He was part of the side that tamely lost 1-0 to Everton and was outlined as one of Mourinho’s "11 mistakes" during the recent defeat against Newcastle, per Sky Sports.
Cole also finds his place in Roy Hodgson's England team under threat. Leighton Baines has long deserved a shot in the Three Lions' first team and delivered two excellent performances during the vital World Cup qualification wins over Montenegro and Poland.
The Everton player assisted Wayne Rooney with a pinpoint cross during the latter game, allowing Manchester United's forward to head the winner home in front of a jubilant Wembley crowd.
Baines' effective long passing and set-piece ability make him a potent weapon, something Cole doesn't maintain on a consistent basis.
Although Cole is more than likely to oust Azpilicueta from the Chelsea team, it's clear Mourinho is happy to rotate an individual who will need regular rest if he is to perform well across the next few years.
Much like Ryan Giggs at Manchester United, the two-time Chelsea boss can get the best out of the man he signed in 2004 by softening his workload.